Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?
But the answer is also No, for Muslim theology rejects the divinity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit—both essential components of the Christian understanding of God. No devout Muslim can call the God of Muhammad "Father," for this, to their mind, would compromise divine transcendence. But no faithful Christian can refuse to confess, with joy and confidence, "I believe in God the Father. … Almighty!" Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.
Long ago, Gregory of Nyssa put it this way: "It is not the vastness of the heavens and the bright shining of the constellations, the order of the universe, and the unbroken administration over all existence, that so manifestly displays the transcendent power of God as his condescension to the weakness of our human nature, in the way sublimity is seen in lowliness."
This does not mean that we should condemn every Muslim believer as an idolater (see "Does God Hear Muslims' Prayers?"). And we are wise to remember that sometimes the best way to address these issues is to move from theological abstraction to story. I've found one story from Richard Selzer's Mortal Lessons, as good as any:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of the mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut that little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth that I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.
"Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks. "Yes," I say, "it will. It is because the nerve was cut."
She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. "I like it," he says. "It is kind of cute."
All at once, I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I [am] so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.
Isn't that what the Christian God is about? God was in Christ, reaching out to us in love, accommodating himself to our condition, to save us.
This is what we are about as ambassadors of Christ and his gospel: to go into the world, into the prisons, into the barrios and the ghettos and wherever it is that human beings exist in alienation and separation from God, and to tell them that the relational God is reaching out to us, and that the kiss still works.
Timothy George is a CT executive editor and dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? (Zondervan, Spring 2002).
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.